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William Blake was a 19th century writer and artist who is regarded as a seminal figure of the Romantic Age. His writings have influenced countless writers and artists through the ages, and he has been deemed both a major poet and an original thinker.
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The following year, Robert appeared to Blake in a vision and presented him with a new method of printing his works, which Blake called "illuminated printing." Once incorporated, this method allowed Blake to control every aspect of the production of his art.
While Blake was an established engraver, soon he began receiving commissions to paint watercolors, and he painted scenes from the works of Milton, Dante, Shakespeare and the Bible.
In 1800, Blake accepted an invitation from poet William Hayley to move to the little seaside village of Felpham and work as his protégé. While the relationship between Hayley and Blake began to sour, Blake ran into trouble of a different stripe: In August 1803, Blake found a soldier, John Schofield, on the property and demanded that he leave. After Schofield refused and an argument ensued, Blake removed him by force. Schofield accused Blake of assault and, worse, of sedition, claiming that he had damned the king.
The punishments for sedition in England at the time (during the Napoleonic Wars) were severe. Blake anguished, uncertain of his fate. Hayley hired a lawyer on Blake's behalf, and he was acquitted in January 1804, by which time Blake and Catherine had moved back to London.
In 1804, Blake began to write and illustrate Jerusalem (1804-20), his most ambitious work to date. He also began showing more work at exhibitions (including Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims and Satan Calling Up His Legions), but these works were met with silence, and the one published review was absurdly negative; the reviewer called the exhibit a display of "nonsense, unintelligibleness and egregious vanity," and referred to Blake as "an unfortunate lunatic."
Blake was devastated by the review and lack of attention to his works, and, subsequently, he withdrew more and more from any attempt at success. From 1809 to 1818, he engraved few plates (there is no record of Blake producing any commercial engravings from 1806 to 1813). He also sank deeper into poverty, obscurity and paranoia.
In 1819, however, Blake began sketching a series of "visionary heads," claiming that the historical and imaginary figures that he depicted actually appeared and sat for him. By 1825, Blake had sketched more than 100 of them, including those of Solomon and Merlin the magician and those included in "The Man Who Built the Pyramids" and "Harold Killed at the Battle of Hastings"; along with the most famous visionary head, that included in Blake's "The Ghost of a Flea."
Remaining artistically busy, between 1823 and 1825, Blake engraved 21 designs for an illustrated Book of Job (from the Bible) and Dante's Inferno. In 1824, he began a series of 102 watercolor illustrations of Dante—a project that would be cut short by Blake's death in 1827.
In the final years of his life, William Blake suffered from recurring bouts of an undiagnosed disease that he called "that sickness to which there is no name." He died on August 12, 1827, leaving unfinished watercolor illustrations to Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and an illuminated manuscript of the Bible's Book of Genesis.
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